“Affordable” Farmland Means You Pay for Government Grabs


Naturally — no doubt in harmony with the philosophies of its core reader base — a Providence Journal article about the state government’s new program to buy farmland and sell it to beginner farmers at “a steep discount” is celebratory.  What’s not to love about a program that takes money away from people in order to heavily subsidize a space-intensive occupation to support businesses that may simply not make sense in this state while giving the government a new pretense for buying up land and even leasing it out as if to sharecroppers?

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago on this issue, I love the idea of nearby farms and local produce, but subsidizing them benefits the aesthetics and consumer choices of relatively wealthy people.  The way to preserve farmland would be to allow Rhode Islanders to keep more of their money and to lighten regulations so the economy could boom, thus leaving more room in household budgets for the experiential and quality benefits of buying local.

The cost isn’t the only red flag about such programs, though.  Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit insists that this program will be voluntary both for the farmer looking to sell his land and the farmer wishing to buy or lease it, but a “for now” is implied.  The 2010 document I cite at the link above, which further research has shown to be a starting point for much of this conversation, includes proposals for making “affordability permanent.”

The document doesn’t explain what that means, although a reader can reasonably infer the drafters were contemplating possibilities should state and federal budgets become too tight for tax-money handouts.  The first suggestion is to put language in “conservation easements” that would “give conservation organizations the right of first refusal to purchase the land at agricultural value.”  An FAQ from the state Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission defines “agricultural value” as the value of land after it has been reduced to account for the restriction that owners can only use it for farming.

As the Providence Journal article points out, that could be an 80% discount off the fair market value.  So, before a farmer could sell his land, a non-profit, a land trust, or even the state government would have to be given the option of buying it for 20% of its value.  As for the ultimate buyers, they’ll surely be restricted in what they can do, probably with requirements to follow government preferences, with allowance for bureaucrats to change the deal with the political winds.

Whether such additions to the program are currently on somebody’s secret to-do list or not, the example should remind us of the danger of taking such steps for feel-good government programs.  Once government is entrenched in the process of buying, selling, and operating farmland, government effectively controls the industry, and once we’ve decided this is a legitimate activity, we can be sure government will look to apply it to other industries, as well.

After all, what’s not to love?

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I have been away from it for a while, but in “farming areas”, farm land sells for about $1,000 an acre. The value of the land is, naturally, closely tied to the value of the crops it can produce. This is a utopiod idea that benefits only the wealthy. Have you checked the prices at a farm stand lately, and compared them to a supermarket? More of the “Agrarian Myth”.

    • A farmer

      The whole idea that there is a shortage of farm land is ridiculous. Here in Cumberland many acres have been “protected” such as the former Scofield land and Franklin farm that can be utilized if farmers can be found. The DEM knows full well that this is not happening and any future attempts to ask for bond money or any work around funding should be stopped until we see results that establish farm plots and ernest farmers on these farm plots. Mr Hardwick is quite correct about the market value of raw farm land.

  • GaryM

    “includes proposals for making ‘affordability permanent.’ ”

    The concept of “permanent” is not clear. In the original RhodeMap RI plan, there was a concept that easements are portable and can be moved elsewhere in a zero sum conservation game (Transfer of Development Rights).

    For example, waterfront conservation farm land in Little Compton of x acres might be freed up for high rise development simply by transferring the farming rights to another area within a HUD district. The Providence – Fall River area is a HUD district.

    It’s all about what’s written up in a local Comprehensive Plan.

    Taxpayers and conservationists alike should be very wary as our US Supreme Court becomes ultra liberal (aka the Hillary Court) in deciding such matters.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      That sort of thing is commonplace. For instance, towns and cities which require paved sidewalks in new developments frequently run into the problem that there are no sidewalks for the new sidewalks to join up with. They require you to pay for sidewalks in a part of town where they are useful.

  • ProsperityForRI

    With farmers aging rapidly and farmland unaffordable to low income folks and most of the other folks who wish to farm, RI needs a program to help farmers get land to farm. Thyis is going to be especially important as the California drought threatens food security in Rhode Island.

    I figure Justin Katz is just a rich racist or one who has been bought by rich racists.

    • Mike678

      Thank you for yet another demonstration of how RI schools have failed to educate many of its students.

      • ProsperityForRI

        Sounds tlike you are from the racist party too. And jsu7t what are you doing to improve food security in Rhode Island. Katz’s organization takes money from criminals and racists. do you?

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Japan is facing the same problem of aging. The average Japanese farmer is 63. But, their solution is robotics. It is coming to American farms fast.